Strawberries Forever–Some Thoughts on Strawberries

Strawberry
I love New Jersey strawberries. That is not to say that strawberries from elsewhere are not good but, in my humble opinion, Jersey berries (straw- and blue-) are definitely among the best anywhere. So it was with a considerable degree of perturbation that I learned two weeks ago that strawberry season in the Garden State, generally lasting only about a month, was already upon us and rapidly nearing its end.

Fortunately some local farms had strawberries as did the Trenton Farmers Market. Between them all I ended up getting over a dozen quarts of ripe honey-sweet berries. Yum. Since strawberries (and other berries) freeze well, what is not eaten within a few days can be frozen. Needless to say, fresh picked is always best.

Strawberries have a long history. The ancient Romans valued the medicinal qualities of strawberries at least as far back as the second century B.C.E., using them to treat fever, depression, diseases of the spleen and liver, kidney disease and kidney stones.

The Romans were definitely on to something. In recent years strawberries have been clinically shown to have significant health benefits. Strawberries can boost short term memory, ease inflammation and gout, reduce the risk of heart disease and certain types of cancer, and are one of the best foods for diabetics. Just a few years ago, researchers at the Salk Institute discovered that eating about 37 strawberries a day can significantly reduce diabetic complications such as kidney disease and neuropathy.

The Spanish born French aristocrat, political activist, and celebrity Madame Theresa Carabarras Tallien believed that bathing in strawberry juice was good for the skin. She was said to use about 22 pounds of strawberries per bath. Talk about a truly aristocratic bath!

I was surprised to learn that John Lennon’s song "Strawberry Fields Forever" has nothing to do with strawberries. The song gets its name from the Strawberry Field Orphanage in Lennon’s hometown of Liverpool. As a child, he lived very close to the orphanage and would often play with some of the orphans living there.

One memorable strawberry incident occurred when I lived in Israel and was paying a visit to relatives who lived in a village about an hour’s bus ride from Tel-Aviv. Before catching the bus, I stopped at the large open air produce market near Tel-Aviv’s central bus station and bought a kilo of luscious looking fresh strawberries to take to them. (Israeli strawberries are pretty good too.) It was a very hot day in June—not exactly unusual in that part of the world—and I was carrying the berries in a plastic shopping bag. I arrived in the village, walked up the dirt road to their home and knocked on the front door. When my aunt came to the door, I told her I had brought some delicious strawberries and presented her with the bag. My aunt was a “sabra,” a native-born Israeli, although it was still Mandatory Palestine at the time she was born. The term “sabra” comes from the country’s indigenous prickly cactus pear which is thorny and tough on the outside, but has a soft and sweet inner fruit, sort of like the personality of many Israelis. My Aunt Yael was no exception. (She truly had a heart of gold, but you had to get to know her before she would let you know that). A straight shooter, she was blunt to the point of what non-Israelis might consider rude. She took the bag, looked in it, frowned, and exclaimed (in Hebrew) “Oh my God! What happened to them? They’re s’kveesh!” S’kveesh?? What did that mean? I had never heard the word before. It sort of sounded like Hebrew and it sort of did not. So I took the bag from her, looked inside, and instantly understood what it meant. The once lovely strawberries were squashed, and were now bright red “squish,” or in Israeli slang, “s’kveesh”.

I do not know what she did with the “s’kveesh” and I did not ask. But it taught me to never carry strawberries (unless they are in a container) in a plastic bag on a hot summer day!

If you are a berry lover like me, try some recipes from these books, available through the Mercer County Library System:

Simply Strawberries by Sara Pitzer
True Blueberries: Delicious Recipes for Every Meal by Linda Dannenberg

Flavorful: 150 Irresistible Desserts in All-time Favorite Flavors by Tish Boyle
Berry Books
Cooking from the Farmers’ Market by Jodi Liano

Luscious Berry Desserts by Lori Longbotham

The Berry Bible: With 175 Recipes Using Cultivated and Wild, Fresh and Frozen Berries by Jane Hibler

—Elka Frankel, West Windsor Branch

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